Since I have been shooting drag racing an awful long time there have been a number of facilities which have been shuttered for one reason or another. Tracks which I always enjoyed going to. Tracks which meant an awful lot to me and those who frequented them as well.
One of those is the famed Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey. While there is no drag racing there, the facility is being used for other types of motorsports. To get the scoop on what’s going on there, I called close friend John McCartney who was the track’s photographer since 1975. Incidentally that was the first year I went there for the track’s Summernationals, a swelter fest for more years than none before it was moved from its July date.
“In addition to the two big Swap Meets which take place there,” McCartney said, “they still run some motocross, go-cart and drifting events, but no drag racing.”
Raceway Park was always known for repurposing things and several of the remaining towers and building on the property have been moved for use at those other events. Opened in 1965, it was an icon of east coast drag racing and missed by many.
Tri-Cities Dragway in Saginaw, Michigan, held a few divisional events when I was the Division 3 photographer. It was a great facility which sat next door to the Saginaw airport. It closed in 1982 and everyone that ran there loved the place.
Another defunct track is Ontario Motor Speedway or OMS in California. It opened in 1970 and had a 10 year run, closed for good in 1980. It was huge, and it was the very first facility able to run all four major and dominant auto racing sanctioning bodies; USAC, NASCAR, FIA, and NHRA. It was considered to be state of the art at the time it opened and seated 180,000 fans, and cost a little over $25.5 million to build. The tower for the drag races held there was brought to the Pomona track and used there for a time, and still being used today in one of the back parking lots. OMS was bought by the Chevron Land Company and was demolished to the tune of $3 million in 1981 to make way for commercial properties which stand there today with a slight salute to racing when one crisscrosses some of the streets that are named after famous cars or drivers.
There was also another California track that all of us loved to go to and shoot. Orange Country International Raceway sat right next to the Santa Ana Freeway(I-5). It opened in August of 1967 and was closed in October of 1983. The multi-use facility ran NHRA and a road course, plus a motocross course giving it an International flair from the different styles of racing that could be had there. Like other tracks that closed before OCIR, this track had an incredible following that those who raced there have missed as did the fans and of course all of us who got to shoot photos there. OCIR, another of the great ones gone.
Recently while in the Mesa, Arizona area, I thought of another track I got to do some shooting at. I recalled being at the now defunct Beeline Dragway, a track that was on Native American land. From what I was able to find out it started life back in 1963, and in those days it ran events on Saturday nights in the Summer months to avoid the heat and Sundays in the Winter months. It was closed down in 1975 but my own introduction to this facility was a race that was held there called the Winter Classic, and I believe I shot at several of those back in the day.
It was bought to my attention that the Route 66 Raceway south of Joliet, Illinois could be on the chopping block as I write this column, though nothing I believe is firm yet. However, I have been told that the whole area has been in a building boom, and like other tracks, the land these tracks sit on is worth more today than the tracks themselves. That’s a simple fact of life in the era we live in.
I’m just glad I get to Remember When!